Marketing lessons from the world’s leading CMOs

Shopify, Slack, Jet, Spotify, Twilio, Casper, HubSpot, Oscar Health. Over the past nine years, the annual FirstMark CMO Summit has hosted marketing leadership from groundbreaking tech companies. One of over 100 events our firm hosts each year, this conference gathers marketing teams from across the globe alongside Fortune 500 executives.

We’ve heard experts share their insights on everything from marketing automation to strategic messaging. Here are the top takeaways.

Pick a framework, any framework

Pyramid, house, circle, ladder…the form of your brand framework doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you pick one and take time to establish a strong brand foundation. This is especially hard for early stage startups: there’s pressure to go to market as quickly as possible in order to test and learn.

Taking the time to determine a brand’s purpose and culture is critical if you’re planning to scale. You’ll need that foundation to communicate a clear, lasting message to your growing audience. And you’ll need it to to stay on track. Every fast-growing company will inevitably face hard decisions. Knowing what your brand stands for allows your company to adapt to challenges without breaking your core promise and losing customer trust.

Redefine your team

CMO Craig Miller took Shopify from 13,000 to 130,000 monthly customers in only three years. The key to his success? Upon joining the company, he changed the name of his team, and his employees’ titles, from Marketing to Growth.

Don’t think about marketing, think about growth.

It’s a simple move with enormous impact. By aligning titles to the outcome he wanted, everyone instantly refocused their thoughts and energy around driving company growth, rather than executing marketing tasks (PR, for example) with no clear tie to the bottom line.

Beware of shiny objects

Many startups have a tendency to set massive, scary goals. In theory aiming high makes sense. In reality however, teams often end up spending all of their effort trying to hit the impossible goals, while no visible progress is ever made. As a leader it’s fine to set ambitious goals for your team — but recognize the best way to achieve them is through steady incremental improvements, not a massive product release or site redesign.

It’s the incremental changes that end up making a big difference.

Break down your team’s marketing efforts into:

  • traffic coming to the company site
  • the site itself
  • the product

Focus on optimizing each one those stages by one or two percent every week. Much easier to tackle, and you’ll end up doubling each year.

Get more mileage out of customer surveys

Love or hate them, customer surveys are an irreplaceable method for collecting data. Executed correctly, you can even train customers to respond to recurring surveys. Thirty million customer surveys have taught Price Intelligently a couple things about optimization:

  • Length: non-compensated forms should be between thirty seconds and four minutes long. After four minutes, the quality of response drops significantly.
  • Format: instead of asking open ended questions, use MaxDiff. Otherwise known as “best-worst scaling”, this framing forces readers to make concrete decisions. The responses you collect can be organized by rank and magnitude. You’ll save time and protect yourself from costly false positives on customer preferences.

Drive performance with automated personalization

A new wave of technology and vendors is changing what’s possible with personalization. Thanks to data enrichment services like Clearbit and Datanyze, B2B marketers can use IP or email addresses to figure out who visitors are. This information can be used to personalize your company’s site for each visitor, optimizing components like site copy and featured customer logos. Get creative about taking such personalization to the next level. A simple email request can be used to pre-fill signup forms on your website, reducing friction and increasing conversion.

Put your trust in trust-based marketing

Fear-based marketing campaigns may help you hit your quarterly growth target, but cultivating trust as a brand works better in the long run. This is especially true among industries where consumer trust is already low — like health insurance. After a survey revealed their customers purchasing decisions were heavily motivated by perceived trust, Oscar Health focused their marketing efforts on building that trust with consumers by using real members and their stories in advertising, developing high-performing educational content marketing, and featuring data-rich doctor profiles on their site. The approach worked across every stage of their funnel, increasing WOM brand awareness, organic traffic, and retention rates.

If increasing brand affinity is a priority for your team, identify the elements of your product that will encourage customer trust, and figure out ways to communicate them throughout your marketing efforts.

Be the best marketer you can be

Solid life advice in general, but it applies particularly well to marketers. It’s tempting to imitate the proven marketing tactics of companies as successful as Slack. But at the end of the day, every marketing team is unique, operated by one-of-a-kind employees in a company facing its own specific challenges. So above all the playbooks, focus on being a first-rate version of your marketing self. Build a first-rate version of a marketing program tied to your business and the market you occupy.

Interested in learning more from senior leaders across the tech ecosystem? Click here to join FirstMark’s upcoming events and watch past talks.

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